The Right Service Depends on Diagnostics

Scan tools can be an expensive investment for shop owners, but they’re among the most important tools when it comes to fixing a customer’s vehicle.

Diagnostic tools are vital for quick and accurate service, and most techs like to have the most up-to-date information available.

“Scan tools don’t fix cars, they allow the technician to fix cars,” said Bruce Lunsford, a technician and instructor from Mooresville, N.C. “You have to have some knowledge in automotive electronics and diagnostics to be successful.”

At North Eugene Automotive in Eugene, Ore., President Rick LaChance runs a small shop with two other techs, and they use their scan tools at least four to five times daily.


Shops need equipment to be as current as possible to efficiently service their customers. It’s important that they know what updates are available for their scan tools.

“It’s hard for me to buy the latest and greatest equipment, but I’m still pretty much up-to-date. I need to get something with CAN in my scanners,” said Lunsford. “I’ve got the scanners now, I just need to buy the new adapters and updates to scan.”

When LaChance steps on a tool truck to buy a scan tool, he focuses on current products and that the diagnostic equipment he’s investing in will last a long time.

“How soon it would be outdated. What’s the life of this tool? If they’re coming out with a totally different design next year, and the one we have is going to be obsolete, that would be more important than price to me,” said LaChance.

“We just had our (scan tools) updated. It made a world of difference on some of the newer cars,” he said. “About every six months we do the updates.”

Joe Marconi, owner of Osceola Garage in Baldwin Place, N.Y., looks at the shelf life of his scan tools.

“How much are the updates? How updateable is it going to be? … What can it do? What can’t it do?”

Marconi said a key concern with new tools or updates is how much vehicle coverage is included.


Updates may be one of the most important aspects for using a scan tool, but knowing other features can be helpful when selling diagnostic equipment. Lunsford said he’d like to see more features on his scan tools. Currently, Lunsford is looking for a scanner that can accurately determine a vehicle’s fuel pressure.

When LaChance looks at purchasing diagnostic tools, he hopes to find a variety of options, including “being able to have a wave-scope option, and mapping system. Checking the difference parameters on each individual item, like the maps sensor, throttle position sensor and the oxygen sensor.”

Some features may not be available, or may need to be enhanced by the manufacturer. In particular, Marconi has found issues with a few features with his equipment.
“Airbags are an issue on some of the cars. A lot of the scan tools are not that great with air bag diagnostics, so I think that’s one area where a lot of them are lacking,” he said.


LaChance said that his shop is a type of business that likes to stay current on diagnostic equipment.

“We’re learning all the time. We do diagnostics, but there are times when it’s over our head,” he said. “We seem to be able to take care of 90 percent of them. … It’s once a month, or something like that, that we have something we can’t diagnose.”

As far as training, Marconi has focused on learning and staying current with trends.

“We use CarQuest Technical Institute. They have training,” he said. “This year we enrolled for the new CAN operating system, the new technology. That stuff is good.”

Being a vital part of any service shop, Marconi believes it’s important to stay current and have the right equipment in order to run a business efficiently.

“Most shops don’t have the resources. They’ll pick one or two (scan tools), like maybe the Modis from Snap-on, or the Genisys (OTC). Those are the two top brands that people tend to buy.

“This day and age, you just can’t survive with one. I don’t care what the tool manufacturers are saying, that one tool is the latest and greatest—it really isn’t. … Plus it depends on what type of cars you’re working on.”

So when it comes to selling diagnostics, be aware of what techs and shop owners say they want to know. How current is the model, how complete and often are updates available and how much model coverage does it offer.